Tips on Dating Someone with a Mental Illness
When did you know you were dating someone with a mental illness? It may have started like this: You met the most amazing person. You have been on a few dates, and the chemistry is there. It's exciting, and it's going so well. And then one night you have a deep conversation and you learn that you're dating someone with a mental illness. What now?
What Not to Say If You're Dating Someone with a Mental Illness
As someone who has been on the other side of these conversations a lot of times, I can vouch for the type of reactions that are less than helpful when you discover you're dating someone with a mental illness.
First, do not call your new potential partner "crazy." There are a lot of stereotypes about mental illness out there. Most people who, like me, struggle with bipolar disorder do not manifest the way characters do on TV. Similarly, the news media is quick to brand mental illness as "crazy," especially when it comes to those very few who commit crimes. (Studies have shown that those with mental illness are seven times more likely to have violence committed against them than to ever harm another person [How Does Mental Illness Affect Criminal Behavior?]) You might be concerned, but the term "crazy" is typically a non-starter for the conversation that needs to happen.
Second, do not simply nod and move on. This is an invitation to start a conversation about dating someone with a mental illness. This person has made him/herself incredibly vulnerable in an effort to talk to you about something that is really difficult to talk about. Ask questions. Ask to hear the person's story. Don't be accusatory, but make sure you learn what you need to in order to make an informed decision about whether or not this is the right relationship for you.
Day-to-Day Issues of Dating Someone with a Mental Illness
Dating someone with a mental illness adds an extra dynamic to a relationship, as any health issue would. Here are a few things to keep in mind when interacting with your partner.
- Each day is its own situation. Those of us with mental illness can't predict what our moods will be each day. While there tend to be cycles, sometimes there is an outlying "down" day. Take those days as they come, and be prepared for them.
- Establish a routine. What does your partner do to maintain stability? Often, medication and self-care will be part of his/her routine. Likewise, relationships also need their routines. Make sure that if you establish that you will text your partner each morning or talk each night, that you stick to that. Routines increase stability.
- Practice open communication. This is perhaps the most important thing. Make certain that you are able to discuss issues that both of you are having with your partner's mental illness. Your thoughts are just as important as his/hers, and just as your partner will need to openly discuss things he/she needs from you, you will need to be able to do the same.
Be Part of the Solution When Dating Someone with a Mental Illness
Sometimes, mental illness can be even harder on you, the partner, than it is on us. Trust me, we feel terrible about those times, but harping on it only increases our guilt and the associated depression. So while it is important to bring up issues that you might have, it is necessary to do so in a way that is part of the solution rather than increasing the problem.
Practice compassion with your partner. Living with a mental illness is hard, and some days are harder still. Understand that on those days, not everything will be likely to be achieved by your partner. If he/she is having a truly difficult time getting out of bed, focusing on the fact that the dishes didn't get washed is unhelpful. Instead, try speaking positively about what your partner did accomplish. On particularly bad days, getting out of bed, eating a meal, and taking a shower might constitute success.
Be involved in your partner's support system. Know who else he/she turns to in times of need and get to know them to share notes. (Do this with the knowledge and consent of your partner.) Learn what psychiatric medications are being taken and understand their effects and side effects. You might even go with your partner to meet with his/her therapist.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take care of yourself. Don't allow your partner to overburden you. It is like the oxygen masks on airplanes. Only take care of those around you after you are in a safe place. There are resources out there through organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for friends and family of people with mental illness, and you may find these helpful.
Dating someone with mental illness is not a death sentence. It is, however, something that needs to be properly managed and will require you to keep all of these things in mind to be successful.
Berg, J. (2018, March 28). Tips on Dating Someone with a Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2018/03/dating-someone-with-a-mental-illness
Author: Jonathan Berg
I think i have ended up for the third time with a person afflicted with some sort of mental issue. Needless to say, i am feeling unlucky and am wondering what i have done to deserve this? That part is so frustrating for me when i think i may have found a potential future partner
Now i am on the verge on jumping ship to escape. I know i could not handle a person with distorted thoughts or views even if they are minor.
It is sad when a person just wants to have a normal relationship but also sad for the person ending up with an extra burden to try and cope with. After all, one wants to keep his own sanity too. The hard part for me is in, how to best end it without too much hurt for the other person.